On January 5th 2016 Temba Bavuma became the fist black African to score a Test century for South Africa. Bavuma is only the 5th black South African to play test cricket for South Africa in a country in which about 80% of the population is black.
Cricket as culture has a long history in South Africa from at least 1808, when one of the earliest cricket matches was recorded, to the present day. It has with other sports provided a voice for the voiceless, been a symbol of resistance to apartheid as well as being seen by the present South African government as means to achieving togetherness, mutual understanding and respect.
With South Africa being readmitted to international cricket in 1991, following the end of apartheid, Bavuma has long since been aware of the fact that for him and others cricket has a significance that goes beyond the boundary. Commenting upon making his debut Bavuma explained, “it’s not about me making my debut it’s about being a role model, an inspiration for other kids…black African kids”.
CLR James writing on cricket inspired Joseph O’ Neil to write Netherland, a novel dissecting American society whose touchstone was the cricket brought by immigrants to New York. It challenged the political barriers of class, race, culture and art.
In a different but similar way Bavuma’s triumph, like CLR James’s triumph in Beyond a Boundary, has contributed to reinvigorating cricket with a new political energy and for those who question the significance of sport as culture it is a reminder that the symbolism and lasting impact of playing sport can send powerful messages.
Cricket South Africa’s commitment to transformation is well served by Bavuma’s performance from the crease but his words, after his historic century, were much more about hope for the future.